The Yearning: (Britain during the Dark Age)
“Look my Lady, the rain has flooded the marshes and formed ponds. They are beautiful – like mirrors throwing out sky from the underworld.” She giggled and twirled trying to convey the joy of the morning for there was an eerie type of exquisiteness across the still fenland.
Eadgifu forced a smile but it was hard won, resting beneath reluctant ice blue eyes as she conceded. “Apart from the noisy seagulls, the fen has a stillness that is morbid yet compelling Cisca.” She pushed back her long honey blond hair plait – thick like a golden rope.
The maid stopped her girlish twirling and looked across the fenland again. “Yes, you are right my Lady – it is dull and beautiful at the same time.” She looked to Eadgifu and nervously dared to go beyond the border of her station in life. “Not unlike the way you are now My Lady.”
Eadgifu nodded sadly. “I feel like the dark grey sky – heavy with the threat of more rain and my clouds pass over the marshland where the grass barely contains the expanding ponds that are formed from my memories.” She became dreamlike and tears began to breach her eyelids then roll soothingly down her cheeks. “Such beautiful memories.” She looked to her maid. “I don’t ever want to loose such memories – I can’t bare the thought of them withering with time or being replaced with new ones. Even if they bring eternal pain – I want to clutch them and press them close to me.”
Cisca was at a loss, her Lady had confined and she new she was unable to console such hurt. She moved forward and implored Eadgifu. “Please my Lady you must try to be strong and you need to move forward carrying this scar.”
Eadgifu reluctantly nodded her acceptance and looked down into her clasped hands. They shook slightly and only clasping gave them a surety of control. “I know that you are right Cisca, but I feel unclean at the thought of suppressing Sigbert from my feelings. It feels rude to carry his memory as a burden for he was never that. I feel robbed of him and I want to scream at the Gods for this.” She looked out across the bleak rain drenched fenland to the rising hills beyond, feeling calmed by the serene stillness.
Cisca moved forward and took Eadgifu’s hands in hers. “You must never say such things about the Gods my Lady. They might hear such things and become cross,” she whispered fearing that the all seeing beings could be eves dropping.
Eadgifu nodded and tried to smile through the flood of tears that were now cascading down her face as Cisca embraced her warmly. For a few tender moments they were pivotal while the bleak beauty of the fens and the grey sky whirled about them – a flat drenched expanse in all directions.
After a while Eadgifu became a little more composed and stood back from her maid and smiled. “Who did your hair for you Cisca?”
“Maygwen. Do you think they look well with me,” asked Cisca as she held out her braids. She was her young girl self again and quickly dismissed her Ladies recent hurt as all serfs could when their own lives had been wickedly fashioned to serve others who would own them. She returned to more happy thoughts and was again at one with the marshy tranquillity and felt as though she could dance for joy as she surveyed the peat expanse. Her excitement was not contained and she felt puzzled when noticing the fine fresh morning did nothing to console her Lady, even after she had hugged her and made it go away, or so she had thought. “Are you still sad My Lady? Do you still dwell on Sigbert?”
Eadgifu turned, though she did not look directly at her for she was lost in melancholy thoughts and realised that her serf would not or could not appreciate the lingering hurt and all attempts to console were wooden – hard and unmoving. “Yes Cisca. You look like a typical Saxon woman now.” She would only answer her first question concerning the young maid’s plaited hair.
Cisca decided to stay on her own small indulgences as long as it made the Lady Eadgifu come out of her melancholy thoughts.
“Does it not make me look odd?” Cisca pulled out one of the braids for further inspection.
“No, why should it?” Eadgifu was uninterested in the conversation, her vision swept the distant hills to the West expecting, hoping that somewhere in the distance there would be movement, eager that he would return as promised. The news had been bad and the future held more dread then she cared to dwell upon, and logically she knew that Sigbert would not return.
“Why do you keep searching in vain? He’ll not return.” Her servant’s voice was almost lost to her. “The invasion failed our men were out numbered by Ionia's Celtic servents and their one God. You have asked the soothsayers on a number of occasions now My Lady, yet still you will not accept the truth. We are all growing concerned for you and we are worrying continuously for your spirit.”
“Not our men,” she said offensively. “My men Cisca, you’re not Saxon.” She was staring almost oblivious to the maid’s council. "Soon the Hibernian missionries will be upon our borders, wanting us to join Ionia's grand order and be one with their Christian God." She looked at her maid."Your people, Cisca."
Cisca was hurt and shook her head it was impossible to get through to Eadgifu. “You’ve never said that to me before, my Lady. Why now?”
Eadgifu sighed, her servant was faithful and a good friend, but she was not in the mood to indulge the maid and chastising her for being a native Briton was wrong. She took a deep breath and thought that perhaps she was being cruel with her choice of words. Cisca did not deserve to be the brunt of her frustrated yearning.
“Go back to the settlement Cisca.” Eadgifu’s words were gentle as though coaxing a child. She walked forward and gently took the maid’s hand. “I wish to be alone. I want to look at the hills without interruption. You mean well and are concerned for me, but its solitude I crave for the moment. Please don’t be hurt. Go back and leave me for a short while.”
Cisca’s heart sank but she understood her Lady’s need for contemplative solitude. “If I go, will you promise to fight your yearning when I return?” asked Cisca concerned and unhappy at her ladies request.
“Yes Cisca.” She smiled, relived that her maid would do her bidding without too much protesting.
Cisca walked away compliantly though she was unhappy at leaving her Mistress and wished to be at her side. “I understand but I will return soon my Lady.” She turned and walked slowly backwards – retreating but gently resisting all the way. “Try to enjoy the fresh morning and not dwell on sad things.”
Eadgifu smiled for her maid appeared to find a naive good in all and an immature disregard for all unattractive forms of blight. As though things would go away if ignored. “I shall Cisca – I promise.” She looked back at the distant hills and dwelt on her thoughts – indulging herself in the serene sight of the green peaks against the ominous grey sky. Allowing time to be certain of the maid’s absence before taking a Scramersax from the folds of her dress where she had kept the long single edged knife hidden. Sigbert had given it to her some months earlier. It was most unconventional, but then Sigbert was a young man who thought of nothing else, but the chance to go into battles. From her neck she took the pendant of the God Woden sitting upon an eight-legged horse and placed it upon the turf. For a moment she stared at the pendant with an angry and frustrated sulk as though it was the cause of her anxiety. Her mind was awash with accusations that she wanted to spill out before the main God, for he was the over all watcher and if the subordinate God of mischief was at fault then Woden should face that lesser God instead. She refrained from berating such thoughts allowed for the consequences could be direr if she angered the almightiest.
“Woden, please bring him to me. Please let me see him, I would offer all for just one glimpse,” she whispered, but there was nothing, just a pendent, no sign of understanding, and no God within the metal. Then she took the Scramersax from the scabbard and held the tip at the pendant’s head and with tears oozing from her eyes Eadgifu hissed through clenched teeth. “Where are the God’s when they are needed and why will you not hear me now? My mind is awash with torment and deep sorrow that none can understand. And when anyone tries; I disregarded such attempts as intrusive and unwelcome. All I have is hurt and when remorse cuts deep into me, I can still feel the love I have for him. I relive our moments of intimacy and it is torture – yet just for a moment; I can touch the precious infinity that flickers within affliction and I long to reach into the heartbreaking turmoil and chase the gorgeous eternity that is within.”
Upon her knees she held the knife up to the grey sky peering up at the squawking birds – her troubled mind cursed the Gods for all eternity and within the turmoil of deranged thoughts she came through, wretchedly beseeching the Gods to unite her with Sigbert. For a long time she was still upon her knees as though her world was becoming blurred up close but clear and distinct in the distance.
She gasped and threw the Scramersax upon the sod before her and felt a heart flutter as she perceived a tiny isolated flicker of movement upon the distant hills. Had Woden answered her prayers? Could he have fashioned things for her? She stood and took an uncertain step forward peering intensely at the far off hills where the grey sky met the rolling green. Her Heart filled with a yearning as the horseman made his way along a winding path down into the fringes of the washed fenland.
“Sigbert,” she whispered excitedly while standing and moving forward in disbelief. More riders appeared behind the approaching figure. Her inner self became elated, all would be well, so many had returned and her prayers had been answered.
“Sigbert,” she screamed joyously as she ran forward. “Sigbert.”
The riders boldly descended the hills amid the sound of euphoric horns blowing a fanfare across the fens and once onto the plane, they came thundering across the flat lands – splashing through the scattered ponds formed from the recent rains – looking every part the victorious and noble warriors returning from adventures and heroic deeds. With each thunderous and mighty hoof beat an explosion of silver droplets scattered about the leading steed that bore the fantastic young warrior to her – the ultimate champion and love of her life in all his glory riding like the wind to be before her. Who, upon the God’s Earth, had ever had such a dear and precious devotion?”
As the leading rider drew closer his features became more distinct and all lingering doubts that it could be someone else blissfully dissolved into the expanding wall of her swollen heart. Tears oozed from her longing eyes as she drank in the warrior resplendent upon his steed. His long fair hair danced behind his head and from his hips a Spatha and Scramasax jolted in their scabbards as the horse cantered forward. He swayed upon the steed and his roguish smile formed beneath his blue eyes that were alive with pleasure at the sight of his maiden – his one true love and his sole reason for being before her.
“I knew you would come back,” she called. “Night and day I have beseeched the Gods. I’ve offered all to be with you.” Eadgifu ran forward to a small mound and stood awaiting his final approach.
Sigbert brought the steed to a hoof skidding halt – the beast’s rear almost sliding in the wet peat a short distance from where Eadgifu stood and for a while he struggled to keep the restless brute still. It reared slightly as though paying crude homage to her then was still, allowing all attention for the love that was brought before her.
For a moment, he lingered as his followers came to a halt some way behind – a respectful audience that stood quietly allowing the lovers their moment of grace. He looked down at her resplendently – his circular shield fixed across his back and a long spear in one hand pointing up towards the grey sky. He was adorned in glory and she wondered how clean he looked, especially if he had been travelling over land for so many weeks.
“You look so vibrant and well. I must confess that I have never seen you look so handsome,” she said excitedly.
“And you,” he replied full of awe for the tenderness that stood before him. “Are more radiant then I could ever imagine. Only now can I see the folly of leaving you, for any quest seems so pointless if it should take me from you.”
“I have missed you so much Sigbert – I feared the worst and heard the campaign against the Celts went badly.”
He nodded his agreement. “It went very badly. Very bad indeed Eadgifu.” His smile faded as his eyes saddened with pity – suddenly woeful, he then hung his head. “The fighting was worse then imagined. The Celts fought hard and there were more of them then us.” His voice was burdened, almost apologetic. “We left everything for this endeavour, sacrificed so much and all for nothing. It was a foolish adventure and I have brought you great suffering because of this. For that I am sorry Eadgifu. Do you forgive me?”
“Of course.” She could not understand why he appeared so ashamed. “You are here Sigbert. That’s all that matters now. There will be other days.”
He shook his head. “There will be more days for us, but it has cost you so much.”
“The cost is gone now Sigbert. The Gods brought you back. I’ve offered so much in my Prayers.”
Sigbert sighed then smiled lovingly at her as moisture reddened his eyes. His jaw locked grimily and he held out his hand so that she might come forward and take it.
“You offered much to them and they took all, so that you could be with me. I have come in answer to your entreaty with the Gods, because we men do such things that force good women to make such sacrifices and we are blind to the cost until it is too late.”
The on looking riders that had been standing at bay slowly rode their mounts forward and came to a halt a short distance behind him and Eadgifu took a step back in surprise when she realised that his entourage was a force of beautiful women dressed lavishly in bright garments and adorned with fine weapons that gleamed resplendently. They were strong, powerful and yet beautiful – as beautiful as any women that she had ever perceived and they followed her beloved Sigbert like an entourage of protective guardians. She became jealous and confused then looked up to him for an explanation.
“What! Who are they?” she asked shivering. “Why do they travel with you?”
“I died in battle, they have claimed me and now I have come to claim you Eadgifu. It is the way of things and an answer to your prayers.”
She took a further step back and released his hand, unable to appreciate what he was trying to say at first. Before her eyes, Sigbert and his steed had a glowing aurora about them – a beckoning blaze that framed him in heavenly light.
“They are Valkaryie?” she whispered then looked up and choked through her tears. “What of me?”
Sigbert held out his hand again and looked concerned then whispered tentatively. “You offered so much and the Gods have taken. Do you renounce now. I have been sent in answer to your prayers. I love you Eadgifu and want you by my side for ever.”
She gulped then felt the yearning once more as the meaning of his words became clear.
“I could never renounce you,” she answered then moved forward to clasp his hand. Sigbert pulled Eadgifu up and seated her behind him.
“Where now?” She asked putting her arms about his waist.
He looked behind and smiled, all apprehension gone. “Vallhalla,” he replied.
She closed her eyes and smiled as she laid her face into his broad back and whispered. “Vallhalla.” Smelling the fresh wet grass as the soothing comfort engulfed her.
Cisca returned towards the afternoon, ambling along without a care in the world until she found Eadgifu where she had left her. Her Lady was lying face down in the damp grass and as she turned the lifeless Eadgifu over, the young maid was stunned by the genteel look as though sleeping with all signs of worry gone from her young features – a calm, dead, and barren splendour that rested upon a gracious porcelain face.
“Oh my Lady! My poor love lost Eadgifu – you would hear none but your love.” The words were for the Gods in case they were listening while deep inside she wondered whose maid she would be now and hoped it was no one cruel or brutish. Maybe someone less sad then Eadgifu and for a moment she indulged the thought of someone easier and less taxing while a gentle breeze swept across the drenched fenlands.
Like a dutiful and well behaved child, Cisca gently stroked Eadgifu’s hair in case those who judged were watching. Upon the damp grass lay the blooded Scramersax that her Lady had used upon her wrists and around the weapon’s handle was a chained pendant.
Cisca clenched her teeth as her eyes began to water, she gulped and looked up into the bleak sky and saw the gulls circling above, while against the Western hills dark storm clouds were rising. Maybe her thoughts had been inappropriate, but she was a young maid of simple pleasures and sometimes the enormities of things were lost to her because she had never felt that she merited too much. She shook with sadness and fear for the oncoming storm but accepted it would pass and she would endure, but secretly she wondered who was the more fortunate between herself and the fair Lady before her.